Swimming 2.4 miles. Biking 112 miles. Running 26.2 miles. This is what it takes to call yourself an Ironman, something that senior athletic training major Michael Lynch can say he is.
On Oct. 9 in Louisville, Ky. the race began at 7:30 a.m., according to the schedule on ironman.com, 13 hours and 58 minutes later, Lynch ran across the finish line, officially becoming an Ironman.
Lynch first became interested in competing in triathlons in 2007, when his father completed an Ironman Triathlon. When he was in high school, he was unable to compete because he was too busy.
“Once I got here, in college, I picked up the sport and have grown to love it,” he said. “I guess once you’re hooked on triathlons, it becomes like a challenge, like, ‘I wonder if I can do it?’ And it was just a burning question, until I couldn’t take it anymore. So I was like, ‘Now is as good a time as any.’”
After racing in triathlons for three years, Lynch said he wanted to get a chance to challenge himself and race in an Ironman before he got too busy with work. Because he was still in college, Lynch was able to spend the whole summer training, and that is what he did.
“I worked part time in [the] mornings, and then in the evenings and afternoons I would go train. I guess I started training back in February—so in February, all the way up to that Oct. 9 race day.”
In the nine months of training that led up to the race, Lynch spent a lot of his time training at a gym, PXP Endurance, on the north side of Indianapolis. There, Lynch worked with a coach to learn to apply the proper techniques for swimming, biking and running. He said he also focused on power, speed and endurance, three things that helped him during the race.
Lynch said he also received a lot of support from his friends and even got the opportunity to train with them. They were there for the entire training process and the unofficial training leading up to it. One of these friends was senior supply chain management and information systems double major Nick Shelley.
“We swam, biked and ran a lot,” Shelley said. “We put a lot of time into it.”
Shelley said he and Lynch had been roommates since their freshman year and enjoyed training together.
Lynch said he appreciated Shelley’s support, especially on harder training days.
“Nick would even wake up at 5 in the morning, and we would go for a swim workout,” he said. “It was nice to have someone there because it did, it got really boring. And there would be times when you would be doing so many workouts that you’re just wondering why you’re doing it, and it’s nice to have someone there.”
“You’re kind of loopy when you wake up at 5 and 6 a.m. to work out,” Shelley said. “So just being goofy with your best friend and the time to go work out, get to work and go eat breakfast together or whatever afterwards [is memorable]. So I guess all that time that we got to spend together afterwards and with each other between our workouts [was one of the best parts].”
Shelley struggled to keep up with Lynch at times and said his workout routine was very intense.
“He’s a strong athlete,” Shelley said. “So the first time I went swimming with him, I swam down and back, and I was dying. And he was like, ‘What are you doing, man? We’ve got another hour, at least.’”
Lynch consistently worked out six days a week for about 20 hours a week. But that is not all he had to do. He is also a resident assistant in Roberts, on the executive board of the National Society for Leadership and Success, completing a senior internship and working about 20 hours a week with the women’s soccer team, in addition to taking 16 credit hours. Lynch said he could not have made it without his planner.
“Writing things down, like due dates, [was important],” Lynch said. “Kind of planning out my day, like from this time to this time I’m going to be in class and then I have some free time. So do I work on homework or do I exercise? And depending on how close the due date was getting, I would pick getting my homework done, and I’d miss a couple of workouts.”
This happened throughout September and into the beginning of October, leading up to the race. Lynch’s original goal was to finish the Ironman in under 13 hours. Although he was 58 minutes above that, he said he was OK with it.
“With the fact that September went the way it did, with school and all the things I had going on, I knew I was going to go slower than that [13 hours],” Lynch said. “And I was OK with that because, again, with everything that I had going on, just finishing an Ironman … who else can say that? Or at least, what other college students can say that?”
Lynch said his family was very supportive throughout the process and even set up a GoFundMe to help cover some of the expenses. So when the day of the race came, it was nice to be in Louisville, near where he was from and where his family was. Even with all of the training Lynch did, Shelley said he was nervous for Lynch when the big day came.
“I probably wasn’t as nervous as he was,” Shelley said, “but I knew everything he put into it and all of the time he’d invested. I wanted him to do well and be successful, with all the time he put in.”
Lynch started the race off strong with the swim.
“I killed it.”
He applied some strategy to it. The swim took place in part of the Ohio River, and part of it was against the current and part of it was with the current. Lynch said he had to think about where there was a good current to help him go faster and not get as tired, and he also had to think about the rest of the people who were swimming, and try not to run into them. While the swimming portion went well for Lynch, the bike ride was another story.
“It’s such a long ride,” he said, “like 112 miles. It’s like driving from here to Louisville. It took about six and a half hours to do that for me. That’s a long time to be sitting on a bike. So I mean, I definitely could have gone faster, but I mean, I still had to run a marathon after that, so I had to hold back a little bit and save some energy.”
During the bike ride, Lynch also was able to replenish some of that energy. He said the back of his shirt had a pocket where he kept peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and trail mix. With a 14-hour race, he said, it was important for him to eat and replenish all of the calories he was burning. He ate most of his food while on the bike, because he was sitting down and it was easier than while running, and he also was less likely to get sick. There was food available during the marathon run portion of the race as well.
“Every mile, they had an aid station for the run,” he said. “So they’d be handing out fruit, energy bars and things like that. So I would kind of use what they had, but I had more trail mix.”
Lynch said that although the race challenged him physically, it also challenged him mentally. Part of this was strategizing about how to eat or the best way to race at a particular point, but another part was just staying in the race.
“So it’s like you see someone pass you, and you want go after them and pass them,” Lynch said. “But it’s a long day. It’s a long race. And fatigue, if you’re not careful, the fatigue will take you out of the race.”
The fatigue almost did get to him in the second half of the run.
“By that point, you’re so fatigued that your legs just didn’t even want to move.”
That is exactly what made the end of the race, and after, so difficult.
“After finishing I laid down,” Lynch said, “and it was a horrible mistake, because getting back up and trying to make it to the car was a struggle. I’d say within an hour of finishing, I was knocked out. I was in bed. I was gone. And then waking up the next morning, everything was sore. I have never experienced soreness like that in my life.”
Lynch stayed at home, near Louisville, for the night after the race and slept for 13 hours, waking up for breakfast and then going back to bed. He said he was so tired that he skipped his morning classes that Monday, but the tiredness stayed with him.
“I’d say it took a week for the soreness to go away. But I’d say [it was] almost closer to two weeks before my legs actually felt normal again, because just walking around campus, I was just tired all the time. My legs felt tired all the time.”
Lynch said he is about back to normal now. He said he gave himself three weeks off from working out and is getting ready to start again, now that he has caught up on sleep, and homework and gotten his legs to feel normal again.
As for Shelley, he’s very proud of Lynch’s achievement and said he was an inspiration.
“I never thought it was something I could do,” Shelley said. “And he [Lynch] always was encouraging of me to try whatever I wanted to try.… Just his whole journey to get to this point has been pretty inspirational for me, and you know, he’s selfless enough to take the time out of his day and his training to help me. And I actually did my first triathlon this year.”
Lynch said that although an Ironman or a triathlon in general takes a lot of work it is worth it.
“I loved it,” Lynch said. “People probably think I’m crazy for saying that. So I guess the pain and the mental aspect of the race is almost as bad as physically doing it, because you have so much time to think about it…. But the feeling that I got coming around that last turn and going down the finish and actually finishing, that sense of accomplishment and achievement—like, ‘I actually did it, I just finished an Ironman,’ or ‘I am an Ironman,’ was totally worth it.”